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The Changing Role of Freedom

23 Feb

‘Our mission is to report these horrors of war with accuracy and without prejudice’- Marie Colvin.

Remi Ochlik in Cairo 2011.

Role of the Archaeologist

Archaeologists, be it field or institution based, never work alone in a vacuum.  A prevailing movement in the past few decades throughout the ivory towers of academia is the continued outreach and inclusion of the wider community in archaeological and cultural projects, to include others in their own exploration and documentation of heritage.  Of course, throughout the entire history of archaeological excavation manpower has always been needed, but its the recent tailoring and inclusion of local community groups with wider academic led projects that have led to a greater dissemination of  information to a broader group then ever before.

This is especially so in the age of the internet where even the individual can provide knowledge to a diverse and inclusive audience.  Archaeologists regularly dig up burials, sites, and cities who are separated vastly in time or cultural practices to our own.  Often excavations take place in far off lands and cultures different form our own, and we must be mindful of who we represent, what cultural we are working under and be aware of news at all times.  Sometimes archaeologists do not come off so well.

However, sometimes the wider world interjects.  Archaeological projects in Syria have largely stopped, especially foreign academic led excavations, with the on-going atrocities led by the Assad government continuing unimpeded.  This is a wider part of the Arab Spring, which has gripped a number of middle eastern countries, and has led to dramatic changes in various countries (i.e. Tunisia, Egypt & Libya).  The current violence seen in Syria has been ongoing for nearly a year.

Freedom: What Does It Mean?

Having recently finished the novel Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, I am struck by the very word of the title.  What does freedom mean?  How can it be construed, used and abused?

In America, the current campaigning by the Republican presidential candidates talk constantly about personal liberty, of the intrusion of the big government in every aspect of their citizens lives, whilst also campaigning viciously for  the rights of stricter birth control legislation alongside much stricter abortion rules.  Over in Britain, Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond calls for Scotland to leave the United Kingdom, and secede from the Union.  Proposed upheavals in the NHS and the way in which welfare (both disability, long term sickness and jobseekers) is distributed and denominated is causing rife consternation in the social impacts of such laws.  The sex slave trade throughout Europe or forced labour in South America is still rife, denying the personal freedoms of that person, trapped within a wider web of anonymity, abuse and social deference.  Tension is racketing up on Iran, the US and her allies (namely Israel) want to dissuade Tehran from acquiring the nuclear bomb, whilst Britain and Argentina fire lexical broadsides at each other over the Falkands (or Malvinas) Islands, and Syria continues to pound its own civilians into bloody pulps.

Yes, freedom has been on my mind.  As I wrote about Tim Hethrington and Chris Hondros deaths in Libya last April, I felt that they were killed pursuing not just a passion, but a necessity.  They both documented not what the world wanted to see, but what the world had to see.  Now our scope has moved to Syria, where today the senior Sunday Times journalist Marie Colvin and distinguished French photographer Remi Ochlik where killed covering the uprising and continuing bloody civil war.  Disturbing footage of the attack of the civilians in the Syrian city of Homs can be seen here, as can the shots fired from snipers, aiming at anyone – be it man, woman or child, who dares venture out into the open.

The denial of healthcare, arbitary killing of medical staff, summary executions and relentless aerial bombing of civilian homes is ongoing.  Make no mistake, this is a bloody civil war with no quarter given by Assad’s forces or by the numerous factions fighting within Syria.  It is a curious thing, but now that foreign civilians are being targeted and killed by the Assad government, the world has taken a stronger view towards Syria’s ruler (see this article here in the Telegraph).  One is often forced to question that is seems to almost not matter when civilians are targeted in some far off situation, but when Western affairs conflate then something has to give.  Freedom always comes at a cost, but it is the reaction of the Syria’s ruler, and of the world at large, as to what exactly that cost will be.

The capacity for man to harm man seems to know no bounds.

Points of Call

The following are organisations that are doing vital work in a number of dangerous and critical situations throughout the world in which people need desperate help.  I would heavily advise at least tacitly supporting one or more of the organisations.  The Disaster Emergency Commission provide vital healthcare at a moments notice, often following tsunami’s or earthquakes.  Médecins Sans Frontieres provides healthcare and emergency treatment in countries and areas directly affected by systematic violence or danger, in countries where there is continuing instability.

Amnesty International campaign on a number of key issues and stand up for human rights worldwide. Avaaz are a people powered community with an impressive record of drawing key government attention to a worldwide range of campaigns, from investigations into internet censorship to amazon devastation.  Anti-Slavery is a site with reports on various countries, alongside the  definitions of the different types of slavery that happens on a shockingly massive industrial scale today in the world.   Unicef  is the UN’s arm involved with children and improving worldwide children’s health.  My friend’s blog, The Activist, is a fountain of wealth regarding human rights abuses around the world, and has links to many important sites of certified information.  Wikileaks releases vital information to acknowledge what many in the position of power do not.

26/02/12 Update

An interesting opinion article on the Republican primaries by Laurie Penny.  Over at Ancient Bodies, Ancient Lives,  Professor Rosemary Joyce has a detailed post on the anthropological and historical meaning of the debatable term ‘marriage‘, with regards to an American Senator’s comment.

With regards to the Falklands, there is this frankly ridiculous statement by Lord West that a reduction in foreign aid, alongside ‘minimal’ cuts to the NHS and Welfare spending, would help the Falklands defend themselves.  At a time when the NHS is seemingly on the verge of disappearing as we know it, and not for the better, this is a worrying statement.

Also new article on Syria from The Activist, and a opinion piece in the Telegraph– “Colvin bravely realised the importance of providing a window on the wider world, through which individuals might be moved to effect change”.